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Unit Managers

Unit Managers (UMs) work in the Location Department and support the Location Manager and the Assistant Location Manager. UMs liaise between the film crew and the location, making sure that the property's residents or landlords are kept informed and happy so that filming can progress quickly. If an angry resident complains because of a noisy generator, the UM must placate them, and try to resolve the problem without impacting on the shooting schedule.

UMs are responsible for parking and positioning most of the location's vehicles, ranging from crew cars to Facilities trucks. UMs are also responsible for organising the collection and disposal of waste materials, e.g., water and/or rubbish from the location. They are responsible for the smooth running of the Unit Base including the Facilities trucks, vehicles for Hair, Makeup and Wardrobe, as well as the toilets – known in the industry as Honey Wagons. UMs work on a freelance basis. The hours are extremely long and the work can be physically demanding.

What is the job?
UMs usually start work approximately 4 weeks before filming begins, joining all Heads of Departments for several days of technical recces, when locations are visited and checked against each department's needs. During recces, UMs try to establish good working relationships with the locations' owners/ landlords, and note any specific technical requirements, e.g. changing fixtures and fittings, attaching lights or rigs to the property.

During pre-production, UMs help with Movement Orders (directions to locations which are distributed daily to crew members with call sheets), and check the dimensions of trailers and trucks to ensure that on the first day of shooting, all vehicles fit into their allocated parking spaces. UMs arrive at the unit base before the rest of the crew on the first day of filming, to liaise with security staff (who may have been guarding the vehicles throughout the night) and to organise the marking out of parking areas using traffic cones. They pick up their radio-microphones from the production office trailer and go to the location where they make sure that everything is ready for the get-in, including checking that all parking areas are clear and ready for use by the crew.

When the crew arrive, UMs must be available to deal with all eventualities. Working closely with the 1st Assistant Director, UMs may be required to de-ice a driveway or, if there is a lighting problem, to help the Electricians carefully prepare the location for rigging. UMs must be permanently on stand by throughout each shooting day, ready to respond to any situation. They are also responsible for ensuring that the location owners and local residents are not overly inconvenienced by the film shoot. At the end of each day's filming, UMs clear away all rubbish and ensure that locations are left in good order. UMs may be kept on for several days after films have wrapped (shooting is completed) to ensure that all locations are cleaned and restored to their original condition, and that letters of thanks are sent.

Typical career routes
Although there are no typical career routes for this role, since the ability to drive and handle vehicles is key to being a UM, some have previously worked as drivers of Facilities vehicles. Others are experienced, hard working Floor Runners who are spotted by a Location Manager and offered the opportunity to become Unit Managers. Big budget films that use locations where the public have to be asked to co-operate often use freelance Marshals, and this work provides useful experience of working with the public during film shoots, and may enable them to make industry contacts.

Essential knowledge and skills
UMs must be experienced and confident drivers, and should also be computer literate. Practical knowledge of how film crews work on location, and of on set protocol, is also required.

Key Skills Include:

  • excellent knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures;
  • ability to trouble shoot and to respond quickly in any circumstances;
  • excellent communication skills;
  • ability to be amiable and calm in difficult situations;
  • tact and diplomacy; excellent organisational skills;
  • a practical approach to work.
Article from Skillset
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